Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Messengers to the market

Product managers are the messengers to the market for their companies. In the latest episode of the Product Management Pulse podcast I interview Steve Johnson, a top thought-leader in product management. Through his years of experience as a software developer, SE, sales rep and then product manager, Steve has gained a deep understanding of technology products, from idea to release to success. Steve shares his experience in his typically humorous and instructive manner.

You can read about Steve’s latest ideas on his blog and download his eBook The Strategic Role of Product Management from his web site.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think about this episode.


The pace of change

Thanks to Dan for pointing me to this video about the fast pace of change. It takes about 5 minutes and will cause you to think differently about the world we live in. Hold on tight and pay attention!

The Product Management Perspective: The world of product management is changing too. Just when you think you understand a market or a product or a buyer persona, you blink and it changes. Product managers need to be engaged in learning. Keep learning; be happy for the things you have learned; don’t beat yourself up for the things you don’t know.

Take to heart the advice of Eric Hoffer: “In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future.  The learned usually  find themselves equipped to live in a world  that no longer exists.”

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Know your market

Knowing the market and understanding customers requires getting out of the office. You need to listen to the people who are in the trenches using your product or perhaps your competitor’s products. Understanding their needs, their pains, their ideas for doing things better help product managers tune into the market. After all, it’s the people in the market who become the customers that pay for the products and services they need. To understand how products will be successful, product managers will know the target customers and what drives them to buy their products.

The work of interviewing customers is a critical aspect of knowing your market. Customers respond positively to one-on-one interaction with product managers. They appreciate feeling like they have a role in setting product direction.  They want to be innovative, and the act of a product manager taking time to listen to them talk gives them a feeling of empowerment that they are really making a difference. They also like to talk about themselves. Tuned in product managers take time to listen to and really understand their customers. They ask well-thought-out questions to lead the conversation, but let the customer do most of the talking. They listen to what’s being said and ask pertinent follow-up questions to confirm what they heard. They visit with customers at their place of business (and without the sales rep). Customers will gladly show how their company operates and how they use products if their input will be used, and if they feel they are not being ‘sold to’ by the people onsite (for this reason it’s best to go without the sales rep).

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Leadership and product strategy

Though the role of product manager differs from one company to the next, most product managers I know believe they drive the strategy for their products. I suppose in most cases they do. Strategic product managers spend time understanding the market and directing product activities toward meeting those activities. CEOs and other executives don’t always (or often) understand this. Therefore, part of the product manager’s job becomes educating executives on the strategic importance of understanding the market.

Strategic Role of Product ManagementI found a great new resource for educating people on the strategic role of product management. Yesterday Steve Johnson released an ebook called The Strategic Role of Product Management. He answers several questions such as who needs product management, what is marketing, and where does product management belong in an organization. It’s written in an easy-to-read format, in Steve’s unique and witty style, with stories that drive home key points. It’s replete with facts and statistics based on the many years of research carried out by Pragmatic Marketing. One of the key takeaways for me is the focus on helping people in other roles understand why product management is strategic. The following quote provides some insight on this:

Instead of talking about the company and its products, the successful product manager talks about customers and their problems. A product manager is the voice of the market full of customers.

One last thought about the importance of leadership. I found a quote by Dee Hock (founder of Visa) that provides good advice for product managers who need help convincing executives of their strategic role:

Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers.